Permitted to Hike…

IMG_20170909_212552The fact that we spent most of our lives working in and for places that catered to summertime recreation, the thought of pre-planning and obtaining permits sometimes escapes us.  When we were working, and our kids were younger, our recreation time was generally in the “off-season” which didn’t create the need and urgency for permits.  While you could probably get away with not obtaining a permit, we are rules people and understand the purpose of permitting as it pertains to user safety, user experience and especially user impact.  Most permits can be obtained on-line through recreation.gov, and are usually not more than $5/permit/person.  Half Dome permits, however are $10/person.  The problem one runs into, is when people reserve and pay for permits, but fail to cancel their reservation(s), especially inside of the two week period when refunds are not given.  I get where people may think that losing $5 is no big deal, and think of it as “donation” to the park service so they make no effort to cancel their reservations.  Failing to cancel said reservation IS, in fact, a BIG DEAL.  Generally, because of this, the park service can not release and refill the unclaimed permits until 10:30 – 11 am the day of the permit, when the “inventory” of “unclaimed” permits is confirmed.  Hence, this is why if you can not obtain a permit on-line (or via phone…rangers still pick up the phone), you must be at one of the appropriate Wilderness Permit Stations the day/night before to get on a first come first serve waiting list.  As all permits for Half Dome AND the John Muir Trail (JMT) seemed to have been “reserved”, we were “shit out of luck” when we started looking at doing Half Dome, back in May, for a September permit.  Each year from March 1-31 one can put in for lottery, specifically for Half Dome, so we were more than a little late.  As the weeks went on, we would look periodically to see if anything opened up, but such was not the case.  We had discovered a way “around” the permitting process for Half Dome, provided we hiked northbound from Cottonwood Pass, which meant doing the entire JMT and a section of the PCT (of which Paul and I would gladly do again).  We were however, pretty sure neither Sandy or Scout could take off that much time (or would want to do that many miles…continually).  The Wilderness Permit would allow for Half Dome (if requested) without having to put in for the “lottery”.  That being said, we would have to do the math, and then pick up the permit from the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine at the appropriate time/date.  Obviously with hiking the Chilkoot Trail and fishing another week, the timing was such that we couldn’t pull it off.  The plan then became…let’s “wing” it.  We had called and talked to a Ranger at Yosemite who explained the daily lottery and trailhead options, as well as our probability of obtaining a permit based on our trip’s “window”.  If we were a little flexible we could pull this off.  Our niece and her husband were also supposed to join us on this adventure, however, we later found out that as she had been in a recent traffic accident and by the time the trip came along, she had not been released to participate.  Seeing as our planned start date, and therefore finish date, were not etched in stone, her husband would not be able to join us either.  Thus our group that started with eight (our son and my friend Jody were trying to fit this trip in as well, but could not) was down to four.  This allowed for a higher probability of success in obtaining a permit on the date and trailhead we wished to start.  In Yosemite, each trailhead has a daily quota for overnight wilderness permits.  The smaller your group, the higher the probability for walk-up permitting, and usually you’re more flexible as well with less “cooks” in the kitchen.  The vast majority of people who make the climb to Half Dome, go by way of Yosemite Valley starting at Curry Village, now permanently renamed as “Half Dome Village”, due to the prior concessionaire laying claim to “owning” the name “Curry Village” and the “Ahwahnee Hotel” as well (it has been renamed too, as the Majestic Yosemite Hotel).  From Half Dome Village to the top of Half Dome and back again is a grueling 16.4 mile trek.  8.2 miles of continual up followed by the same amount of continual down.  Most people begin their trek near 5 am.  It is a full day, and if it is hot, one needs to plan on carrying A LOT of water, and/or a water filter.  While you can “camel up” at Vernal Falls (0.8 miles) or at Nevada Falls (3.5 miles via JMT or 2.7 via Mist Trail), without a need for a filter, you will need a filter if you want water from the Merced River at Little Yosemite Valley to make the remaining 3.5 mile ascent to the top of Half Dome, which are not easy miles.  You of course, then need to turn around and come back with (or without) water.  A one day event such as this, is NOT appealing.  There are however other ways to skin the cat that is Half Dome, if you have the time, and are flexible.  Ones “day before” options to Half Dome, are as follows with mileage listed as One Way:

Walk-in permits are best obtained at the Yosemite Village Wilderness Permit Station in Yosemite Valley (9-5)

  • Half Dome Village (8.2 miles)
  • Glacier Point (9.2 miles) via the Panorama Trail

Walk-in permits are best obtained at the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Permit Station (8-4:30)

  • Sunrise Lakes TH (13.0 miles). Total miles to Yosemite Valley – 17.3 miles*.
  • Cathedral Lakes TH (16.7 miles). Total miles to Yosemite Valley – 21.2. miles*
  • Rafferty Creek / Vogelsang TH to Merced Lake via Fletcher Creek to Half Dome via Little Yosemite Valley (27.7 miles).  Total miles to  Yosemite Valley – 32.4 miles*
  • RaffertyCreek / Vogelsang TH to Merced Lake via Fletcher Creek to Half Dome via the JMT junction (25.7 miles).  Total miles to Yosemite Valley – 30.4 miles*
  • Lyell Canyon via Fletcher Creek/Little Yosemite Valley to Half Dome (36 miles) .  Total miles to Yosemite Valley – 39.7 miles*

*Total miles are as close as possible, but consider them “approximate”, as exact math is not my strong suit.

Each Trailhead has a quota.  This means that only a certain number of people are permitted to start from that point each day.  This is where it gets tricky.  One should have three options, either trailhead and/or start date if you really want to do this.

We wanted to start on the Tuesday after Labor Day, Wednesday at the latest.  Looking at the topo map of the trail, and the total miles, our first choice was to start at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead, second Rafferty Creek and third Lyell Canyon.  As we were already in Mammoth Lakes over the holiday weekend, it was an easy drive to the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Station.  We left Sunday afternoon and arrived in time to talk to the Rangers and work out the logistics before Scout and Sandy met up with us on Tuesday.  When we arrived at the office, we were actually issued a permit for three (including Half Dome) for Monday (the next day).  As we had planned on and now needed to be lined up at “O’dark Early” Monday morning for the fourth permit, the Ranger explained that if it looked like there was “room” for a Tuesday start, we could turn in our Monday permits (which they would release to those also in line) and pick up our permits for a Tuesday start when everything flushes out at 1030 am.  Obviously, “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush”.  As we already had a permit issued for a Monday start, we were allowed to camp in the Backpackers campsites of the Tuolumne Meadows campground at $6/person.  Our car had to be outside the campground and/or parked at the permit station lot.  We spent the rest of Sunday spying on fish in the Tuolumne River.

Monday morning found us a little chilled till the sun came up, and in line with 20 other people by 8 am.  With our group size down to 4 people, securing our permits, especially after the “high season” of hiking for the JMT, and Half Dome for that matter, was fairly easy.  We had stressed for no real reason.

IMG_20170904_202948

A young buck taking its “cue” from the bears, feeding on apples (tossed by visitors) in the parking lot of Half Dome village where remnants of the Curry’s apple orchard provide shade and a few apples (when in season)

We spent the rest of the day playing “tourist” and made our way down to the smoke choked and ridiculously crowded Yosemite Valley, in an effort to figure out how the heck we were going to get back to our cars in Tuolumne when we had finished this trek.  This was going to be tricky as the Yosemite Area Rapid Transit System (YARTS) , as of Labor Day now only ran on Sat/Sun (at 5pm, $9/person) back to Tuolumne Meadows, and that was only going to be  until the end of the month.  The “Hiker Bus” , run by a concessionaire ran at 8 am from Half Dome Village for $14.50/person till Sept 10th.  Our other option would be to hitchhike back to our cars.  With options in hand, we worked our way back to the tranquility and crisp clean air of Tuolumne Meadows.  By the time we got back, it looked like a ghost town.  Cars were no longer parked bumper to bumper on the shoulder of Tioga Rd.  The meadow trails were absent swarms of people.  The ginormous boulder “hills” that line portions of the road were devoid of outdoor clad people scurrying about like ants.  It’s as if someone said, “Get out!…Now!”, and to our delight, they did.  This opened up a regular campsite for us to set up and wait for Scout and Sandy to arrive.  Here, we would be able to better reorganize our gear and prep our “smellables” into coolers for storage at the trailhead bear lockers.

 

Posted in Backpacking, Half Dome, JMT, John Muir Trail, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized, Wilderness Permits, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Friendly Skies

So we’re headed home. Today’s weather and temperature in Juneau would be a typical winter day at home, with the exception that it’s been raining (hard) for three days, almost non-stop. Before we take our shuttle, courtesy of the Driftwood Hotel, we stretch our legs and walk in the now intermittent rainfall. As we look back toward our hotel and the low hanging clouds part, we spy at least two long trailing waterfalls on the steep hillsides, that weren’t there two weeks ago. The culvert that was practically dry (Gold Creek) with salmon writhing in what little water there was, working their way “upstream”, are now hiding in eddies and behind rocks just to keep from being washed back into the sea. (Gold Creek turns out to be quite important to the city of Juneau. In 1880 Chief Kowee told prospectors Joe Juneau and Richard Harris there was gold in them thar waters…hence “Gold Creek”. Miraculously the city of Juneau was founded that same year.) We head into downtown Juneau and have a coffee at the Heritage Coffee Roasting Co., where we are pleasantly surprised they give free refills…take that Starbucks! The morning is quiet. The streets are empty, and the sidewalks are peaceful, but not for long. Several cruise ships “lie in wait” as they begin to nestle up to the docks. A yawn and a moan can be felt amoungst the shops that line downtown, as the locals and seasonal workers begin to filter in, to provide goods and services for the eager “boat people” who will descend en mass upon this now quiet little town, which oddly enough is the capital of Alaska. Soon we will be back to the hustle and bustle of compacted civilization. We are lucky we live in a relatively “small”, laid back town, so going home won’t feel so awkward and suffocating.

On the way home we have a 2 hour layover in Sitka and plan to take a brief foray into town. Before doing so, we, and the flight attendants, had a major miscommunication issue that we didn’t realize at the time. Seeing that we had a two hour layover, and the fact our plane was going to Seattle. We and the flight attendants, mistakenly thought we were on the same flight (plane). We missed the part where they were also stopping in Ketchikan. Before we get off, we ask if it is okay if we leave our carry-on luggage (our backpacks and my technicolor souvenir satchel from Portugal, I will now name, Tecky), or if we should take them with us. They call forward to double check that we don’t have to take them with us. “No, your ID and boarding pass are all you need.”. So they will be here when we get back?, we ask in confirmation. “Yes, right where you left them”. Awesome! We don’t have to lug those things with us to town! An announcement was made to clear the aisle for the passengers wishing to get off the plane. A few people get off, but most stay seated. We thought it odd that one would want to sit for two additional hours on a plane when they don’t have to. As we exit we notice several people are “sawing” some significant “logs”. Believing we have a good 2 hours, we ask a gal who got off the plane with us if she knew how to get to town. “Oh, you won’t have enough time to really see anything”, she says. Well, at least we’ll try. Now there have been three clues that in hindsight had we paid attention to any one of them we wouldn’t have been in the predicament we soon found ourselves in:  1. Ketchikan. 2. Our Flight number(s) and 3. “Not enough time”. Yet, we went upon our merry way. Unable to hail a cab, as there were none waiting. We hitch into town. A Coast Guard officer picks up saying, “I’m not supposed to pick up hitch-hikers, but you don’t look like axe murders”. Cool! (The ride, and well the fact he thought we weren’t axe murders…cause we’re not). It’s a 5 minute ride into town, and he drops us at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, St. Michael’s, established in 1844.

It’s smack in the middle of town, and actually a replica of the original that burned down, along with most of downtown Sitka, on January 2nd 1966. The artifacts inside this active parish (masses Saturday evening and Sunday morning) are awe inspiring. The intricate craftsmanship of the Church’s 19th century liturgical items, paintings and icons are captivating. Being that they allow you to take pictures, I snap off a few, as reverently as possible.

IMG_20170818_113311820IMG_20170818_113159514

 

 

On advice from the Sitka Visitor’s Office, we then walk over to “Castle Hill” where in 1868 the treaty and transfer of the “ownership” of Alaska from the Russians to the United States was ceremoniously completed, sans the Tlingit – First Nation peoples. From here you are treated to a peek of what Baranof Island (part of the larger Chichagof Island) has to offer. With an hour to go before we need to go back through TSA screening and reboard our plane, we debate on whether we should eat in town or head to the airport and eat there, as we don’t want to cut it “too close” for our flight. We decide the better choice is to head to the airport, besides I heard the restaurant there is famous for its pie – (plural). Pie it is! We stick out our thumbs and hitch back to the airport. I still can’t get used to doing this. Lunch is good and we get the pie to “go”, even though we have plenty of time. Just as we are about to board, we look at our tickets. It seems as though they changed our seat numbers for this leg. Odd, we think. Should we leave our packs back there and wait till everyone gets off in Seattle to retrieve them, or move them now? As we board the plane, I notice we have different flight attendants. Hmm, maybe that’s why there was such a long layover. It must have been to change the crews. Once we board, we are a little confused. Where’d all the people go? Then it hits us. Where are our packs? Tecky? Did we actually get on the wrong flight? How is that possible? We hail the flight attendant. Umm, are we on the right flight? Confirming this is going to Seattle, right? “What seems to be the problem?”, she asks. We think we may have missed our flight, we tell her. The bags we left on the plane aren’t here anymore. Perplexed, she asks for our boarding passes and confirms we are on the correct flight, Flight #62. Still a bit befuddled, we briefly wonder why our flight number changed from #58 to #62, and then it hits us. Ketchikan. Flight Number. “Not enough time”. SHIT! Our bags! Will we ever see them again? Paul now tells me our passports we’re still in his pack. Uh-Oh! The flight attendant is still a little hazy on how in the world they let us get off without our packs, especially since 9/11. We explain the conversation we had, and how they had called to double-check that we could leave our packs, especially seeing as we were going to Seattle, and so were they, but what we didn’t realize is that they were going via a stop at Ketchikan, and we were going direct. In double time the flight attendant and several other desk people are working furiously to find our packs (and Tecky) and to make sure we are reunited with them in Seattle. At first they told us they would pull the packs (and Tecky), and put them in the cargo area and we will be able to pick them up at the baggage claim when we get to Seattle. This didn’t make sense, as we were going on from Seattle to Orange County. “Well that’s not going to work, is it? Let me see what I can do”, our attendant says and then asks us for our flight number, saying she’ll be “right back”. She returns just before the flight departs. “I think I’ve got it worked out for you. Let’s hope it works”, she says.  N10 is where the plane will be “parked”(upon which our packs and Tecky are traveling) when we land in Seattle. We “should” (should, being the operative word here) be able to pick them up there. If not, we are to go our gate (N1), in case they delivered them over there, as it’s almost directly across from N10. Worst case senario, we are to go to customer service in terminal N, and they “should” be able to find our bags. Oh goody! Lots of”shoulds”. On the bright side, at least this didn’t happen on our way to our backpacking trip! We settle in for our flight to Seattle. So much for reading the book my friend Jody gave me…and the Bailey’s we we’re going to add to our in-flight coffee. I fidget in my seat, and spy the airline magazine. The only choice I have now is to be that annoying person who fills in the Suduko, anagram and word problem puzzles in these in-flight magazines…in INK! BTW, what ever happened to the Sky Mall catalogues? How ever am I to figure out what products I should not be without?

In due time the snack cart starts to wheel down the isle. Biscoff cookies are handed out for free, and the other snacks are available, for a “price”. The cart pulls alongside our row of seats. “Would you like a snack?”, the attendant asks. I nod in the negative. She leans closer, and whispers in my ear, “Are you sure. You can have anything you want, considering how you’ve been inconvenienced.” We reconsider, and choose a bag of jerky, that otherwise would have been $9. “Let me know if you want anything else”, she says, handing me the bag, “It’s the least we can do.” IMG_20170818_214621570 (1)No sooner does she wheel off, the drink cart comes by. “Anything to drink?”, the attendant asks. “Coffee”, I reply. “How bout a little Bailey’s for your coffee?”, she asks. “Can I make it a double? It’s on the house”, she grins waving the tiny bottle of coffee enhancing goodness. Can this flight get any better, I think. “I will gladly make it a double, and he (Paul) will have a rum and Coke, if it’s not too much trouble”, is my smiling response. “Shall I make it a double for you as well?”, she asks Paul as she grabs two mini bottles of clear rum. “Why not”, he replies. He looks at me and shakes his head. “Now how did you swing that?”. I shrug. Now we certainly didn’t ask for it, demand, or expect it, so I chalk it up to divine Providence and awesome customer service. We land in Seattle, and once we deplane we make our way to terminal N.  We are immediately hit with the fact that this is most people we’ve seen in two weeks. Holy Crap! It’s a little unnerving. We recover quickly, and from terminal C, head toward terminal N10, which requires us taking a train.  We arrive at terminal N.  No people or bags at N10. We go to our gate, N1. Lots of people, headed to Chicago. No bags. In fact the desk clerk (not sure what their official title is) has no idea what we’re talking about. Uh-Oh! She suggests we go to customer service. We arrive just in time. They are about to send our bags to the “land of the lost bags”, in the event they can’t find any identification in them. The packs and Tecky have been sitting there for well over an hour, as our bags’ flight arrived well before us. Happily reunited with our packs. We are told we are lucky to have our bags back, considering the unattended bag protocols since 9/11. We are pleasantly pleased they weren’t blown to smytherines (if that’s actually a word). In due time (2 plus hours), we are truly on our way home. IMG_20170818_195421164_HDR (1)Somehow we again are pampered as we find ourselves in Premium seating, which allows us extra leg room, a snack box AND adult beverages. I think I’m in love with Alaskan Airlines! We touch down in the OC, and eventually are reunited with our freshly frozen fish and Schluffle.

And so ends this Alaskan adventure.  If all goes as tentatively planned, we will be traveling, camping and backpacking through Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada next summer.  In the meantime we have another adventure to plan, of which we will depart in another week or so to Yosemite to climb Half Dome…the long way from Tuolumne Meadows with our friend Scout (of Magnificent 7 Mt. Whitney fame) and his wife, Sandy…a “new” backpacker.

 

Posted in Alaska, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Underwater Exploration

**These next two posts are a little late, and the final installations of our Alaskan adventure, so bear with me.  Its not easy to keep up sometimes.  Going on, and experiencing two adventures, then writing about them, selecting the pictures to upload and then posting them at the same time you are preparing for another adventure (I’ll have that up in another week or so) becomes difficult with so-so WiFi and especially when other aspects of life get in the way.

Anywhoo…

We spent our day in Skagway wandering around looking at things we don’t need.  We did however purchase two Chilkoot trail specific t-shirts, and Chilkoot Trail Pale IPA pint glasses from the Skagway Brewing Co. (If you are ever there you have to also try their Spruce Tip Ale…it’s amazing).  The other place to spend time at in Skagway is the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Interpretive Center.  Be sure to catch the movie, and the Ranger talks.  Other than that we did a lot of people watching and hit every bar in Skagway, the final stop being the Red Onion Saloon (once an apparently well visited brothel), but according to the bathroom graffiti may still be in operation.  IMG_20170809_145508125 (1)This place was packed.  They offer tours of the upstairs historic “cribs” for $10.  The bartenders and servers of which were predominately women dressed in 1897 “barmaid” bustier attire.  While saddled up to the bar, I had a spirited debate with the bartender about which came first, the Red Onion in town, or the “Red Onion” in Canyon City.  canyon2I surmised that either one may have been the first “franchise”, on record, of which she became indignant, telling me there were “No such things as franchises back then!”.  She obviously did not get my humor. Unfortunately our ferry back to Juneau was extremely late leaving, so getting into Juneau at midnight, turned into 2 am, and our “buzz” which we intended to enable us to sleep on the ferry had completely worn off.  Our ferry that next morning to Angoon, for the second half of our Alaskan adventure (which included A LOT of fishing) was set to leave at 7am, which now left little time for any quality shut-eye.

IMG_20170810_061802379 (1)

Six hours of sleep in our tent on the ferry terminal lawn was now reduced to 4 hours.  We did our best to sleep on the ferry, but it was not as restful as we had hoped.  The weather was still superb, and a rarity in Southeast Alaska, so we basked in its sunshiny glory and extremely calm seas.

IMG_20170810_112703985 (1)

After a short stop at Tenakee, we shoved off toward Angoon.  As my father was in the midst of an active bite, fishing with his best friend’s son Clifford , Major John Quinn of the Salvation Army, met us at the dock (which we completely understand).  John and his wife Cathy operate the Eagle’s Wing Inn, where we would be staying at for the week with my father.  They operate the Inn as a means to serve the people of Angoon as “soldiers” (actually Majors) in the Salvation Army.  My father has been fishing in Angoon for several decades and stays for at least a month each summer.  For the past decade or so, he has been staying at the Eagle’s Wing Inn, so John and Cathy, who by the way are the kindest people you will ever meet, are practically family by now.   Their hospitality is splendid.  John made sure we had fresh popcorn (movie style…very addictive) every evening and Cathy kept the cookie jar full of freshly baked cookies.  We even took a run with John into Mitchell Bay to check his shrimping hole.

He even shared his “spoils” with us.  A word of warning…Once you have had absolutely fresh shrimp, there is NO going back.  Sadly now, I will only eat shrimp in Alaska, having been exposed to what shrimp is actually supposed to taste like…without sauce.  As the unusually nice weather continued to hold, we joined Joann George for a guided sea kayak trip.

IMG_20170811_122613508_HDR (1)

We paddled to the shore where an ancient bear trail lay, where nearly six inch deep depressions marked the comings and goings for generations of bears.  Further up the trail was a “scratching post” wherein the claw marks of a bear at least two feet taller than Paul “stretched” leaving a lasting mark, and the innards of a tree completely shredded.  This was a little unnerving, but Joann assured us that we would be safe as most of the bears were gorging themselves in the streams right now. Just in case, after having announced our presence and intentions to any bears still remaining in the area, she carried her kayak paddle. She shared her knowledge of the flora and fauna and her love for Alaska and specifically Angoon.

IMG_20170811_122931780_HDR (1)

She told us of a Tlingit saying, “When the tide is low, the table is set”.  How true it was we came to find out.  As we paddled back, we navigated the tidal change which in Angoon is significant and creates some amazing eddies.  We had a splendid time.  We learned a lot and got a great workout to boot!  It wasn’t until we returned and spoke with my father, that we learned she was a famous Alaskan artist.

IMG_20170811_201557656_HDR (1)

That evening we motored over and dined with my father and Clifford at the Whaler’s Cove Lodge which is located on Killisnoo Island.  Inside the Lodge is this photo below showing what the area looked like in the 1800’s.  Of course it looks nothing like that now, but all the same Whaler’s Cove Lodge is a splendid place.

IMG_20170811_174510644 (1)Their food, service and accommodations are certainly 5 star worthy.  Upon our return to the “main” island (Admiralty Island) we were treated to an amazing “sunset” of sorts, considering it would not really get much darker for most of the night.

The weather and fishing was amazing our first day on the water, and to my father’s chagrin we would have been more successful had we not been so “rusty” getting the Salmon actually in the fish coffin.  Eventually we smoothed the kinks out and worked out a system that maximized putting fish in the box.  Paul and my dad baited the lines.  No matter who hooked them, I generally reeled them in and Paul netted them.  My father of course put us on the fish, and “supervised”…”KEEP YOUR TIP UP!”

Where we were fishing at Danger Point, the Humpback Whales were particularly active, and as such we were graced with being able to watch Humpback Whales bubble netting.

We also saw a pod of Orca, which was a little disconcerting whilst reeling in a large halibut.  Even though the weather did not hold, and we were soggy wet by the time we returned to the dock each time we were able to safely go out an fish, we caught our fair share of Coho Salmon (aka. Silver Salmon), a few rock cod, and over 350lbs of North Pacific Halibut (which trims out to about 180 lbs of fillets).  As luck (I prefer to call it skill) would have it, I caught the lion’s share of halibut, and the largest, I might add.  Paul couldn’t figure out how if our lines technically were only 8 feet apart, how I was the one always with the halibut hookup.  “Ya just got to have the right touch, and know how to talk them onto your line”, I told him.  To be fair, Paul was the one reeling in most of the Salmon.  I dubbed myself the “Halibut Queen” and Paul the “Silver Prince”.  My father chuckled and shook his head.  Okay back to halibut.  When halibut fishing you really don’t want the monster size “barn door” halibut.  The reason being that halibut over 100 lbs are generally considered “breeders” and in order to continue to successfully fish these waters we want them to keep breeding. In the event you catch one, you measure it (alongside the boat) and then set it free.  Because they don’t have swim bladders, horsing them to the surface generally will not kill them like other deep water fish, especially Cod (which I like anyways).  Additionally, halibut that size are also really hard to reel in and even harder to get them into a boat.  Anywhere from a 30-60 pound halibut (which are usually the males, as they generally don’t get over 60 lbs) are the best eating anyways, and we call them “Chickens”.  We did however keep what I call a “Turkey” as it was a little over 55 inches long (4.5 ft tall) which translates to  about 80+ lbs .  In order to get it into the boat, my dad took over, I filmed, and Paul wrestled it into the boat.

In no way would it fit in the fish coffin, so it had to be hog-tied along with two others.

That day was an epic halibut day as evidenced by the pictures below.

Just prior to leaving, our friends Larry and Vicky of Winthrop Washington who trail angeled us during our 2014 thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), joined us in Angoon at the Eagle’s Wing Inn .  They spent the next two days after we left, fishing with my father.  Successful as well, they went home with a 50lb box of Coho Salmon.  We boarded the ferry with two boxes in tow, 50lb of Coho and 50lbs of halibut, as that was as much as our freezer at home could hold at the time (we have since cleared room for another 50lb box of Coho that is soon to arrive via air freight).  As the weather was damp and cold, we spent the bulk of the uneventful ride back to Juneau inside, dining on the rest of our freeze-dried meals and snacks from our Chilkoot adventure.  Once we arrived in Juneau, we were picked up via shuttle by the Driftwood Hotel where we were staying for the night before we were to catch our flight home the next morning.  We have added the Driftwood Hotel as our “go-to” lodging while in Juneau for three reasons:(1) Can’t beat the price, (2) The Sandpiper Café has probably the best breakfast food in Juneau, (3) They have freezers (for no extra charge) in which to keep your fish nicely frozen until you go home.

Time to head home and prepare for our next adventure.

 

 

 

Posted in Alaska, Angoon, Chilkoot Trail, Juneau, Skagway, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bonanza! We made it!

IMG_20170808_122315395We lollygagged the morning away, and in fact most of the early afternoon, which when we first looked at our itinerary we thought would be an unbearable feat.  Nope.  Easy-peasy.  We woke up leisurely, and drank the remainder of our freeze dried coffee with all the other Chilkoot “survivors”.  We compared “notes”, spoke of home, shared email and blog info, and promised in earnest to stay in touch. We systematically went through the groups and persons that we had seen along the way. Several groups had failed to show up that evening, and we hoped they would arrive in time Saturday to catch the train back to Skagway. We had heard that several people had been medevaced (helicopter airlifted) from the Chilkoot Pass due to of all things, heat stroke!  Soon we hear screams of JOY!  And who should appear, the remaining two of the Canadian Triad, Dianne and Danielle!

IMG_20170808_104130271

It was a raucous reunion.  They dropped their packs and basked in their accomplishment.  There were two trains scheduled for Saturday.  The first was headed further into Canada leaving at 1130, but not before a whistle stop at Bennett Lake for the “tourists”. The train pulled in and soon our tranquil beach is invaded by gawking, fresh scented, clean clothed, sweat free, “hikers” out to get a look at the shores of Bennett Lake, the exterior of the old church, a cemetery, and us.  They took pictures of who knows what, as in all actuality there is nothing really left of the Gold Rush, save some buried “midden sites”, broken glass and rusty nails. I’m sure at one point there were artifacts a plenty, but not so much now.  We joked amoungst each other that we felt like gorillas in the zoo, and wondered at what point we should start throwing poo.  Soon the train whistle blew and it was time for them to reboard for their trip to Carcross. With nothing much else to do till our 3:30pm train, I decided to wander the shoreline in hopes of finally seeing the rapids from Lindeman to Bennett.

I discovered a few “treasures” along the way.  I don’t think I have ever seen so much broken glass and rusted tin cans in one area,  Nearby, there were several structures under construction.  It appears that Glamping (camping without the true grime and dehydrated food) is coming to Bennett Lake, to what we heard would be $1600/double occupancy for a four day “adventure”.  I’ll bring my own tent and food thank you. Paul and I wandered as far as we dare, to the edge of where the rapids flowed into Bennett Lake.

IMG_20170808_132529523

Considering what we found on shore, we figured what lay underneath the end of the rapids and at this portion of the lake must be enough goods and materials to fill a museum.  We wondered what would happen if next we visited, dive gear in tow.  We imagined getting on the train in Skagway with air tanks, our dive bags and dry suits, and the looks we would get.  I can’t imagine after all these years that Parks Canada would not have done some underwater exploration.  When we were on the California State Parks Dive Team, we dove in Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe (California), it was like going back in time to solve a mystery with the artifacts we mapped and catalogued.  I recall us finding piles of broken plates and cups (fine China) and wondering why, for the most part, they had accumulated in one area.  Then we recalled that decades ago, before Vikingsholm was built there used to be a “resort” of sorts.  We surmised that the kitchen must have been perpendicular to the pile of debris, and the reason why all we found were broken, chipped dishes (not a single one intact) was because this is where they chucked (out the window) any and all chipped and broken dishes as they washed them.  Ones imagination tends to run even wilder from there, as you picture the people who once worked there, and the patrons.  The sounds, sights and smells.  What were their stories, as everyone has a story.  The same thoughts ensue as we peer at the tail end of the rapids, unable to venture any further up due to the terrain, and frankly it looked rather “Beary”.

We examine an abandoned washing machine, a tired coffee pot and the debris piles that practically coat the shoreline, scattered well into the water.  I can’t imagine people of that period would just toss their empty bottles/tin cans willy-nilly, and/or purposely smash everyone to pieces.  With 120 years passing, we are sure that we are only viewing the last remaining surface artifacts, that either have been broken by vandals (for fun), or with the pressure and friction of the snow and ice during winter. IMG_20170811_172039023

(Later in the week when we are dining at a wonderful fishing lodge with my father, we spy an intact bottle in a display case labeled “Chilcoot Trail 1970”.  Proof, many an intact souvenir of the Chilkoot Trail exists.). When we return from our exploration, it is time to pack up and head over to the train station.  Everyone talks of how hungry they are, how they are looking forward to their “turkey sandwich” box lunch, most (including us) have purchased for our ride back to Skagway.

We wander over to the currently boarded up train station.  We are amazed at how many hikers have now appeared, and have timed their arrival at Bennett Lake with the train.  A replica boat used to ferry goods from Bennett Lake down the Yukon River is dry-docked across from the train station, giving us something to examine whilst we wait.  In the near distance movement on the tracks marks the impending arrival of the White Pass & Yukon Route train returning from a visit to historic Carcross.  IMG_20170808_141715201_HDRIt slows to a stop, and the conductor leans out a stairwell of a train car and announces to us, “Bring your packs up to the front”.  We are told that we have our choice of two cars, and are NOT to board or inhabit the “non-hiker” cars (lest we stink them up).  With that, the train station comes “alive”.   The doors to a “hidden” interpretive center open, complete with a fully appointed bathroom. Droves of camera laden people, clad in pristine “hikerwear” filter off the railroad cars behind us, wandering into the interpretive center and up the “road” to explore the cemetery, church and shores of Bennett Lake.  Thinking the train was to leave at 3:30, we are more than slightly annoyed, namely because we are all hungry and most have no food or snacks left in which to nibble before the dispersal of our box lunches.  Resigned to the  fact that we aren’t gong anywhere soon, we wander into the interpretive center.  The displays are quite good.

IMG_20170808_142726021_TOPThe 3D topo map provides a great overview visual to the terrain we have traversed.  They are running a movie loop of the history of the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike Gold Rush on a big screen TV.  Paul is  seated at the edge of the seating.   A woman in a wheelchair has parked 2 seats away from Paul.  I take the vacant seat next to Paul and begin to watch the film.  Next thing I know, the woman in the wheelchair turns toward me, wrinkles her nose (giving me a look of disgust) and wheels to the other end of the seats.  Aw come on! Really?!  I am pretty sure that I don’t smell any worse than Paul.  I am tempted to walk up to her, take a really big sniff, and see if I can identify her laundry detergent.  But I don’t, because the film is actually quite interesting.  Soon the train whistle blows and it is time to board the White Pass and Yukon Route train back to Skagway.

We clamor aboard one of the cars, to begin our scenic journey.  A woman narrates as we go.  We spy still visible traces of the White Pass route, often referred to as “Dead Horse Pass“, wherein 3000 horses/mules perished attempting to haul goods over this route to Bennett Lake.

We are fascinated at the engineering feat, and the obstacles and terrain that had to be overcome to make this route.  Thousands of men worked to have this completed as quickly as possible.  It took them 2 years, 2 months and 2 days to complete it and have it running.  2 years after that it was practically obsolete as no one was “racing” to the Yukon for gold anymore.  Today, it’s primary use is for tourists off the cruise ships from May till October.  Eventually our box lunches are dispersed.  IMG_20170808_152456769Not much for $20, but we are hungry and soon the car becomes quiet, as we inhale the meager contents.  The pictures and video we take, do not do this “ride” or the scenery justice.  If one is ever in Skagway, this is a worthwhile “touristy” thing to do…even for the cost.  On the way to Skagway we pick up some National Park Service private contract, archeologists.  They are surveying, inventorying, and exploring the remnants of the White Pass Route, to see what the feasibility of actually opening and restoring this route for hiking and back-packing to Bennett Lake.

IMG_20170808_171142681_HDR

From what they told me, it’s a long way off, as it will take a lot of trail maintenance, but they hope it happens as it would add another fantastic dimension to the story of the Klondike Gold Rush.  Eventually we glide into Skagway.  We remove our hats and sunglasses, and hold our open passports, and hold them in our left hands (not that we have two) for the CBP Officer (US Customs and Border Patrol) to examine.  We are given the “Okay”, and step off the train to a bustling “metropolis”, compared to where we have been for the last 4 days.  We grab our packs, say our “goodbyes” and head for a shower and to be reunited with Schluffle (the rest of our stuff for next week’s fishing).  We set up our camp, for another night at the Pullen Creek RV park, and then head to the Bonanza Bar and Grill to meet up with Russ, Trudy and Heidi, Beverly and Mike who is the bartender (currently working at Bonanza)who hiked the trail with us.

We eat, drink, laugh and play several rounds of highly spirited BINGO for alcohol related paraphernalia.  I win a Bud Light hat and plastic pitcher, both of which I return to Mike, as do not want to carry this, nor would I EVER drink this beer.

IMG_20170808_221530043

Full and happy we literally wander back to our tent, the streets void of all activity.  Tomorrow we will play tourists till it is time for our ferry back to Juneau, and on to the next adventure.

 

 

Posted in Alaska, Backpacking, Chilkoot Trail, Mini Adventures, Parks Canada, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Final Leg

We awake to another beautiful morning.  The lake is shimmering like a mirror.  Paul has had a pain free night’s sleep, which is a good thing because I awake to back spasms. Perfect!  (I frick’n hate getting older!) We are in no particular hurry to get up or get moving.  We have two days to travel the remaining 7 miles to Bennett Lake.  Breakfast is leisurely.  We all discuss whether we will all be hiking directly to Bennett Lake or make a stop, and camp a night at Bare Loon Lake 1.4 miles away.  We hear it is a great place to swim.  Russ asks how Paul’s ankle is feeling.  He tells Russ it is much better, but not 100%.  Russ announces that we should all camp at Bare Loon, and offers to come back and carry Paul’s stuff.  Paul declines, telling him that we will meet them there.  A new Parks Canada Ranger wanders into camp to say “Hello”.  He also offers to give Paul a ride to Bennett Lake (or within 2 miles…we can’t escape it), via his power boat if he would like.  I, of course will have to walk.  Curious, we ask why not all the way to Bennett Lake.  The Ranger tells us that at the end of Lindeman Lake there is a mile long narrow stretch of treacherous rapids that flows into Bennett Lake, hence the required 2 mile walk into Bennett Lake.  He further explains that while many of the Stampeders used and/or built boats here at Lindeman City (decimating the surrounding forest’s timber), once they got to the rapids, they portaged their gear and boats around the rapids, lest they literally lose their shit.

IMG_20170806_200726169_HDR

More than a few chanced it and made it, but most who tried, failed, and lost everything. (Be sure to read the upper right portion of the above interpretive panel) The Ranger excuses himself as he has trail maintenance to do.  Most everyone sets off, and we lag behind as the Upper Lindeman City campground has an “interpretive center”, housed in a period, canvas clapboard, tent that is flanked by interpretive panels.

Not only does the tent house books and pictures chronicling the history of this “city”, the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike Gold Rush, but there are cards and board games to equally pass the time.  This place alone, would be a great destination from Bennett Lake.  It is beautiful and engaging.  It is mid morning when we hit the trail.  We climb (yes all trails begin with an uphill) up out of Lindeman City and stop at an interpretive panel whose embedded picture was taken from this exact vantage point during the height of the Chilkoot Trail.

What a difference 120 years makes!  Nature has certainly reclaimed this once scoured land.  Paul’s ankle is feeling better, but we tread slowly and deliberately, which is fine with me as my lower back is spasming like a game of Russian roulette.  We make the 1.4 miles to Bare Loon lake with remarkable “ease”.

IMG_20170807_114332104

Russ and company are no where to be found.  We talk with a couple hanging out at the open air cooking structure and shelter.  They tell us that our “friends”, waited a bit for us, and then moved on to Bennett Lake.  So much for the plan, Russ!

IMG_20170807_114314117

These two have been holed up here for two days now, as one of their group members is sick with what might be giardia, but most likely the effects from a bad case of heat exhaustion.  We give them the rest of our electrolytes, and they share some anti-inflammatories and the water they have been actively gravity filtering with their platypus filter system.  Ironically there has been no expectation or request for help (by us or them), but help is offered once a need is observed, and equally, with no expectation of reciprocation.  This is the hiking community at its best.  Too bad the rest of the world can’t be this way.   We talk with the young couple for a good length of time.  We consider staying the night here, and ask about the swimming.  They say they have done it, and the water was great, but one needs to be careful not to stir up the silt that lies peacefully beneath the still clear water.  Once the silt is disturbed, the benefits of swimming and “cleaning up” are foiled.  Paul asks me what I want to do.  Considering that my back could fail at any moment, I do not want to take the risk of waking up the next morning, moving “wrong”, and becoming “paralyzed” with pain.  Remember, NO Vicodin.  If that happened camped at Bennett Lake, I would have a better chance of making the 3:30 train to Skagway.  We thank the couple for their drugs and water.  They thank us for the electrolytes and our extra Via (Starbucks) coffee.  We amble on our way.  The trail is fairly easy tread, and often marshy.  It is lined with nearly ripe blueberries, and I sample a handful at a time as we go.

 

IMG_20170807_122931879

Moose droppings (or someone has dropped a whole pile of Cadbury chocolate eggs) lie either in or just off to the side of the trail.

IMG_20170807_130211323_HDR

We look in earnest for moose in the marshes we pass, highly aware that these guys are unpredictable and that more people are injured or killed by moose in this country, and the U.S., than bears.  We pass the dock, at the end of Lindeman Lake, and hope the trail winds close to the rapids so we can peer over, but it does not.

IMG_20170807_142032258_HDR

Our last 2 miles to Bennett Lake is spent walking slightly uphill in soft sand, sans shade, and in the noonday sun.

We pass a trappers cabin, and cemetery.  As Bennett Lake comes into view, we pass the still standing Russian Orthodox Church (built in the 1900’s) that is now used for a storage area.

IMG_20170807_142538395

We drop down to the lake, and again are greeted by cheers of “You Made It’.  We hoot and holler along with them.  Glad to be done, and to see so many now familiar faces.   Russ, Trudy and Heidi greet us, telling us they “saved” us a spot on the beach next to them.  Paul, being the funny man that he is, asks Russ, “Dude what happened?  We’d have been here sooner, but we were waiting for you to come back and carry my gear”.  Russ initially looks shocked, and Paul lets him off the hook, with a slap on the back…”I’m just kidding”.  Into the cook house we filter, as it is time for lunch and to eat mostly what’s left of our food (save dinner and breakfast).  Stories and laughter fill the shelter.  Russ shares a particular story about one woman’s use of bear spray/repellant during the Valdez oil spill clean up.  The story goes something like this, ‘People from everywhere and all walks of life flooded into Valdez to help with the clean up as Exxon was hiring anyone and everyone to sop up the oil as fast as they could.  Each individual was issued a can of bear repellant, or bear spray as its more commonly referred to as.  As the people work, there is an overseer/safety guy that is on the lookout for bears.  The workers are told that if they hear the air horn, it indicates that a bear has walked onto the beach and is too close.  They are to immediately stop what they are doing and return to the rally point, bear repellent (spray) in hand.  The woman (who Russ makes sure to point out that she is blonde…”no offense meant, as it is true”, he tells us) hears the air horn, pulls out her spray and begins to lavishly douse herself, from head to toe, with it.  Of course she is overcome by the potent effects of the industrial strength pepper spray, leaving her incapacitated, crying, blind, and dripping in snot.  When they get her back to the rally point and clean her up, they ask her why she did what she did.  There having been no orientation/instruction on how to use said spray (thinking it was “obvious”, and that with their safety protocols there would be no need to ever deploy the spray to ward off a bear), she assumed that because the canister read, “Bear Repellent “, and not being from around these parts, that bear repellent was the mammal’s version of mosquito repellent, thus once she heard the horn, applied it accordingly.’

More stories and laughter continue as more people roll into camp.  We are worried as our Canadian Triad has yet to appear, and no one in camp has seen them since Sheep Camp.  We hear rumors of an emergency airlift from the summit.  As luck would have it, Brent (of the Canadian Triad) walks into the cookhouse!  Where the hell have you been?  Where are the girls?…we ask.  “Have I got a story for you”, he replies.  They got going early enough (0730), and like us were dogged by menacing hoards of mosquitoes.  The biggest problem was that they ran out of water 3/4 of the way up to the first false summit, and it was getting warmer.  Brent was able to find a spring in-between the rocks, but by then the effects and signs of Heat Exhaustion had already set in.  By the time they got to the summit and the Warden’s cabin, the combination of the sun and the rocks, it was now 120F/52C.  (Holy steaming shit, Batman!  That’s even too hot for us!)  Brent was red hot, and his heart rate was racing.  The Ranger got them drinking water, and would not let them leave till Brent’s heartrate and skin temperature returned to a “normal” level.  By the time this occurred, it was too late in the day to make it to Happy Camp at a reasonable time.  In the meantime, several other hikers, who were in worse shape than them, were airlifted off the summit. (That’s gotta be expensive)  The next morning, they headed down the summit, determined, having made it over the hair-raising climb, to make the train at Bennett Lake by Saturday.  They had heard about Paul’s injury (news travels quickly, and in both directions on the trail), and wondered how far we had gotten and if we were still on the trail.  Brent got as far as Lindeman Lake, but was still feeling the effects of Heat Exhaustion.  The Parks Canada Ranger offered to give him a ride in his power boat to the end of Lindeman Lake.  He would walk the final 2 miles into Bennett Lake.  When Brent accepted, the girls ingeniously unloaded the bulk of their heavy and unnecessary items, and added them to Brent’s pack.  The girls would spend their final night at Bare Loon Lake, and walk into Bennett Lake Saturday morning.  Brent found the final 2 miles of soft sand tortuous (as did most of us) as his pack was heavier than he would prefer, but was happy to have finished the trail without having to have been airlifted out.

We also talk with Amanda and her cousin Stacy (who owns Doggy Decadents ) Both are quite adventurous.  They hunt, fish, ski, snowmobile (extreme), and are homesteaders doing their best to live off the land and provide for themselves and their families.  They talk about the challenges of co-existing with bears, wolves, moose, sub-zero temperatures, and raising (of all things) chickens, in said environment.  Amanda, in fact, writes a blog mainly about homesteading, and all things Alaska, called IdlewildAlaska.com .  You should check it out.  She is way more adept at blogging than I, and has a wonderful, and informative writing style. Via our “smartphones” we all share pictures and corresponding stories of our adventures.

IMG_20170807_165132339

We filter some water and Paul takes a dip into the lake to cleanup, with careful attention to not step on the broken glass and rusty nails that remain from another once bustling town, and the last of our, home prepared and packaged, freeze dried dinners are consumed.  We retreat to the confines of our tents, and for me, the last of 3 more nights I will have to endure my lopsided air mattress.  Night one on the trail, one of the baffles became dislodged.  Could it have been one of the ones on either edge of the mattress?  Of course NOT.  It was the one right smack dab in the middle!  My nights were spent either rolled up into Paul or pressed against the tent door.  Good thing I’m a side sleeper.  We all wonder what we will do in the morning to pass the time before our train comes to carry us back to “civilization”.IMG_20170807_204320614_HDR

Posted in Alaska, Backpacking, Chilkoot Trail, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“Easy”…a four letter word

IMG_20170805_153428562 (3)Nothing spells easy like, H-A-R-D! What was supposed to be an easy 5.5 mile hike that would normally take us 2-3 hours with breaks, took us 6.5 hours. Paul had been nursing his right foot all the way down from Chilkoot Pass (hyper extended his foot stepping on one of the many thousands of mis-shapen granite rocks littered along the trail). His body decided overnight to compensate by making it nearly impossible for him to walk . What was weird is that the ball of his foot no longer hurt. He woke up at 1:30 in the morning with searing pain in his right ankle. WTF? Pain factor 10, when you least expect it. Now normally it’s me with these goofy injuries, of which Paul chides me for. But this time it is he who cannot exactly explain how it happened, but can only say that it hurts like hell, and he must push through the pain, cursing each misstep. Sadly the last of our small bottle of vitamin I (ibuprofen) had been used up last night by Paul (why we brought so little, we can’t even figure out why), so this morning I had to “Yogi” some off a family for him to be able to walk. Each step looked as if he were stepping on glass, and there was nothing I could do to help. I would have given him one of my pain killers that I keep and usually bring along for occasions such as this, but wait someone (of whom I will not name) threw them out because the bottles said they were “expired”. I’m pretty sure that stuff doesn’t expire. At least I’d like to think so.

IMG_20170806_095235528_HDR

The first part of the hike, not long after leaving camp was laborious (mostly because of Paul’s injury),  for it was mostly talus, scree, and impolite chunks of granite on a narrow path along side a steep cliff. I wondered if this was going to be the trip we hit the SOS button on our Delorme, as Paul would teeter nearly over the edge of the trail barely catching his balance when a shot of stabbing pain would blast through his ankle. How the Stampeders survived carrying their crap over this route I’ll never know. (No wonder they mostly did this in the snow, when the rivers had frozen over).  I will say though, that for me the views were breathtaking. I’m sure it was “breathtaking” for Paul, but in an entirely different way.  IMG_20170806_101931006About halfway to Deep Lake, we made use of the icy water running across the trail and stopped so Paul could “ice” his ankle, somewhat reducing the inflammation and pain.

After that, the terrain and pain got a little more manageable, but still no fun…even at a pace slower than my normal “OneSpeed”. Needless to say, Paul was a little grumpy. If only I would have been able to bring that Vicodin, we’d already be Vico-done! By the time we (Paul) hobbled into Deep Lake, a mere 2 miles from Happy Camp, Paul was “done” and seriously considering camping here for the night, which wouldn’t have been a bad thing as this place was gorgeous.

I so wanted to swim here, but the water was way too cold, and you’re not allowed to light fires.  IMG_20170806_135439986_HDRHere Paul soaked his foot for nearly two hours to get the swelling down. The same family that gave me some Advil in the morning, showed up as Paul was “icing” his foot, and gave us the rest of their Advil and an ace bandage to maybe help give better support for his ankle.  While Paul was soaking his foot, we played with the idea of blowing up my air mattress and having him paddle himself at least part of the way. We reconsidered when we learned that the lake feeds a river that runs through a steep and narrow gorge via an equally steep plunging waterfall (from said lake).  Hobble along it is.

Of worthwhile to note, this specific 3.5 mile section from Deep Lake to Lindeman City, was highlighted by the Parks Canada Ranger in our orientation when we picked up our permit on day one.  It seems that this specific section has a problem with bears acting “aggressively “.  No one has been attacked, nor has anyone had to deploy and use their bear spray, just that the bears in that area REALLY like to use this section of trail and are not too intimidated by humans. Last year (I find this out now. A bear was killed, and the section of trail we are on now, was closed temporarily.  The restrictions, previously set were and are not currently in effect.  During the orientation, it was highly (note, highly is underlined and in bold) recommended that one hike this section in groups of 4 or MORE.  They figured if you were a smaller group, that by then you will have made friends, and would hike in a larger group…at least through this section. When the Ranger was discussing this, we took note, but were not really concerned.  Flash forward 2 days and here we are, a slow moving “Happy Meal” for 3.5 miles.  Not sure if bear spray would even be useful, if we had it.  We figure no one is coming behind us, so even if we stayed the night, there was no guarantee that his foot would get better, or other people would show up.  I considered walking the 3.5 miles to Lindeman City, dropping my pack and then coming back to carry Paul’s pack and walk with him, but being solo on the trail (twice) would be even dumber.

So, after 2 hours, Paul is ready to go.  His ankle/foot it sufficiently numb, and the ace bandage is giving him better support, in addition to the minimal KT tape I had applied before we left Happy Camp.  IMG_20170806_143850936Once back on the trail, we are happy that the tread and slope are “gentle”.  The trail initially hugs the edges of the lake, and then weaves through a narrow corridor of tall, dense, vegetation.  We are mindful to be talkative, and keep our eyes peeled for movement in the bushes that flank us, and for the distinctive smell of a bear.  As we trod along, soon we are passed by two sets of people, both are running (on purpose), but not for the reason one would think.  The first was a couple that were obviously “fast-packing” this trail.  He was wearing a cuben fiber Hyperlite Mountaingear backpack, and she a 20L Camelback pack.  As they trotted by, I saw their permit “dancing” on his pack.  Not sure why they were in such a hurry, as the train doesn’t leave till Saturday.  I would imagine they have made other arrangements to return to Skagway, or elsewhere.  The second, was a pair of girls in running attire and water bottles.  [Who does that?  I mean really!  What do you even see when you traverse a path strewn with such history and beauty, trotting along at that speed?  With all the planning and coordination it takes to do this trail, what do you get out of it?  An awesome workout?  A record maybe?  Bragging rights?  Not our cup of tea, but then hey, whatever floats their boat.  Or in this case…plane, as we heard later on that they were racing to get to their chartered float plane out of Bennett Lake.]   They smile as they pass, the kind of smile that reads, ‘Poor bastards, they’re gonna get eaten’.  At one point while we’re hobbling along, Paul tells me that if a bear does indeed attack us, that I should save myself, because at the pace he’s going, he’s a “goner” anyways (Black or Brown bear), no need for both of us to be eaten.  I look at the icy cool lake water the trail is hugging.  There will be NO running, fighting, or playing dead.  We will swim our way out of it.  Waterfall be damned!  Not sure how fast bears can swim, but what I do know is that adrenaline is a wonderful thing.  We get to the end of the lake, and hear the roar of a waterfall.  IMG_20170806_145931133

We spy a skeleton of a boat, left for “dead”.  The trail rises and parallels the gorge.

It is here we see why the bears like this trail.  It is the only “flat” tread up from the edges of the unstable cliffs, and it’s lined with hordes of blueberry bushes.  We are walking through their “food court”, duh!  It is here that we feel most on edge.  We are glad it is mid-day and very much on the warm side.  Better probability for safe passage.  As we walk, I notice evidence of recent trail work.  Much of the vegetation has been cut back from the trail, allowing for a clearer view of what’s ahead and behind.  The lion’s share of the vegetation removal appears to be concentrated on the blueberry bushes.  Brilliant!  Exactly what I would have done, remove their natural food source.  But then the snarky side of me thinks, ‘Now they (the bears) just have mobile piñatas to swipe at.  With the vegetation trimmed back, we notice an increased frequency of rusty artifacts.  Weathered sled skids, wagon remains, tin cans and soles of shoes pepper the trailside.  We must be getting closer to Lindeman City we think.

IMG_20170806_155537212Soon a weathered sign appears tacked up on a tree, “Lindeman City” it reads.  The outline of water appears on the horizon, and then like a cruel joke, the trail narrows into a green tunnel, complete with blind curves, lined with blueberry bushes loaded with ripening fruit, as it descends to the shores of Lindeman Lake and the remains of the once crowded, white canvas clad, metropolis of Lindeman City.  Here there are two places to camp.  Upper Lindeman, or Lower Lindeman.  We choose Upper Lindeman, namely because it continues on the path toward Bennett Lake.  We pull into camp, amid cheers of “You Made It!”  Paul drops his pack on the deck of the cooking cabin, relieved to be done.  Equally relieved, I find us a campsite, while Paul and the rest of the crew trade stories.  Evening food preparation has begun.  It is only 3pm.  We have a snack, and watch as a power boat races up the lake and pulls up to a dock not far from us.  It is the Ranger.  He wanders over to the group gathered at the picnic tables adjacent the cooking cabin to say “Hello”.  He asks how everyone is doing and if we have any questions or need anything.  I ask if he has any ibuprofen.  Russ says we could probably use some athletic tape.  No ibuprofen, and no “athletic tape”, but he does have “hockey tape”.  I laugh , as they are one in the same, but of course we are in Canada where athletics IS hockey.  I properly tape Paul’s ankle, as I used to be athletic trainer in college, and we finish setting up our camp.  More discussion, laughter and trail stories follow.  The Ranger confirms that they purposely were cutting back the blueberry bushes in hopes of dissuading the bears from frequenting that portion of the trail.  We ask him if he was around when Parker (from History Channel’s, “Gold Rush”) filmed his “Wintery” hike of the Chilkoot Trail, “Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail”.   “No, but I heard there was a lot of wine.  The liquid form”, he  replies.  We get to talking about the trail, and how Parker actually had “Sherpas” and a full support crew while filming.  So much for “reality TV”.  I knew that most of the “reality” on reality TV is contrived, but Sherpas carrying your wine, that’s just not right! I will say though, that they made an ascent of the Golden Staircase in less than stellar conditions, which was super treacherous, with or without a fully loaded backpack. The discussions turned to more Alaskan reality shows, bears, homesteading and their (Alaskan’s) differences with the “Lower 48”.  For the most part, the Alaskans we talked to, hate the Alaska reality shows, and are genuinely embarrassed by them. They are completely taken aback, however, by the fact we are from California, especially Southern California.  They can’t get over (especially Russ) how we in no-way fit the well established “stereotype”s they have become accustomed to.

We finish setting up our camp, and it is time for our evening vittles.  Our “dessert” is a muscle relaxant for both of us, and soon we were easily asleep.

IMG_20170806_200226680_HDR

Posted in Alaska, Backpacking, Chilkoot Trail, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

ROcky ROad…continued

IMG_20170805_120336457

Before we continue, we check into the interpretive cabin, that also doubles as an Emergency Shelter.  Inside you will find a box of blank heavy unbleached recycled card stock, “post cards”.  They are doing a “post card project”.  You address a postcard to yourself, and write a note on it to memorialize this hike.  You also check a box, allowing the Park Service (US and Canadian) to use what you write on the card, as they are making a movie/video from the post card project.  In a year, they will mail the self addressed card to you.  It serves as a reminder of your accomplishment and hopefully it will conjure up fond memories.  Will you feel the same about the trail in a year, as you do now?

Our note to ourselves was somewhat reflective.  It went something like this, ‘I don’t know who’s crazier.  The Stampeders, who did it for gold and the hope of prosperity, or us who did this for “fun” and the challenge.’

IMG_20170805_125122043_TOP

If you look closely you can see the trail and where it will lead us

We look across the bowl that awaits us.  Just like ascending required us to stow our trekking poles and to crawl on all fours, descending required the same. For the most part, we scramble down practically on all fours to the still remaining patches of snow.

IMG_20170805_125556655

If you are smart, you unpack your poles, so as to not slip and descend any faster than you’d like.  That is, If you ARE smart!  At one point I chose to glissade (on purpose), as walking was too stressful. I actually got to do it twice, as the first time my pee rag became dislodged from my pack…at the start of my glissade, of course.

I considered leaving it up there, however it would have been cruel to do so. I pictured someone strolling into camp wearing said bandana, excited about their find…only to thank them for picking up my pee rag. Down, down, down we clamored to Crater Lake. Finally on “flat” ground, it is so hot, we consider taking a swim. In some ways I wish we had, but it looked, “ice cream headache” cold.

IMG_20170805_133445260

We met the Canadian Ranger on her way up to the Warden’s cabin. She got a kick outta me sliding down the snow bank, twice. “Gotta act young, to stay young”, she said. ‘You got that right!’, we agreed. We have now descended into a giant bowl, and look back from whence we came. The terrain ahead of us is wide open.

IMG_20170805_133125477

We weave our way across what feels like the surface of the moon. Pristine, azure blue, bodies of water lie before us.

IMG_20170805_142823796

Several more can be seen in the distance, making for colorful “puddles”.

Water flows under our feet, in sheets and ribbons, originating from cascading water falls and streams off the towering mountain ranges in the near distance.

IMG_20170805_152537150_HDR

IMG_20170805_135340911

Early on, we give up trying to keep our feet dry and walk unabashedly through the often icy cold water, preferring to “walk them dry”.  In hopes it provides some relief to his agitated right foot, we take the time to stop and “ice” Paul’s foot.

IMG_20170805_142108708_HDR

Thick and stubborn stacks of compressed snow (ice), defy the blazing sun, refusing to give way to the inevitable “ice cups”.

Evidence of vast snow fields, recently evaporated drifts, as well as “stubborn” snow, flank us on either side as we traverse this remarkable land. We imagine the Stampeders doing this in winter, and dragging or mushing their goods across snow covered ground and frozen lakes.  We imagine the treasures we would find if we were to dive in these standing bodies of water…an underwater archeologist’s paradise.

What’s left of what once was probably a robust saw mill lies rotting in the trail.  It’s the only artifacts we will see today.

IMG_20170805_141748762As we walk along, Paul is limping and trying to stay off the ball of his foot. Every sharp rock and uphill is near torture for Paul.  I, on the other hand, am happy as clam, namely because the seriously rocky part is OVER, it is currently bug FREE and most definitely BEAUTIFUL!

My celebration, of course, is entirely too soon. While it is still beautiful, the rocks and bugs return, if only to annoy us.

We wind up and down and over rounded granite, through flattened scree and lingering snow fields. I play our path from Sheep Camp in my head, and think, ‘If we could speed this up, it would be an awesome roller coaster ride!’.

When the rounded rocks and scree turn to decomposed granite, and vegetation starts to appear with regularity, we can’t help but assume that we must be getting closer to Happy Camp. Wilderness “chickens” (aka. grouse) scurry between the sharp boulders. We hear them call out to each other, like a rousing game of “Marco- Polo”.

Some stand like sentries over their broods and watch us pass. Little do they know, that if we were starving, we would have bopped them on the head and be feasting on a “chicken” dinner. Alas, we came sufficiently prepared. They will live to “cluck” another day. The grouse serve as a nice distraction for Paul and the painfulness of walking. His slow pace however allows me to linger behind and take as many photos as I’d like without annoying him. Soon he calls out to me. “Dee, you gotta see this!”. I scurry up to him and he points down to a sign. We both start to laugh.

IMG_20170805_143605145

“Happy Camp 2 miles”.  Gotta love it!  As always, when you’re more than ready to done, it’s always 2 more miles!

IMG_20170805_153428562

From here we practically skip down the trail to the raised platforms of Happy Camp, and the cool shallow river that flows alongside it.

IMG_20170805_151409542

Once we choose our site, we filter water, bathe and actually soak for nearly an hour in the river’s refreshing waters. It is at Happy Camp that we bask in the company and conversation of several other hikers we have been “hopscotching” with since the beginning .  We have a rousing conversation with Russ, Trudy and Heidi. Lots of laughter ensues. Russ is another one of Paul’s “brothers from another mother”.   We learn that we will all to be on the Saturday train back to Skagway, and that Lindeman City is our next stop, a short 5.5 miles away. IMG_20170806_084602361We head to bed, amazed at how tired we are after only 10 miles. Not that they weren’t hard miles, but really? 6- 10 miles, daily, is nothing for us at home. We finally must be getting old or something.  Our kids would agree that we already are OLD! Darnit!

Posted in Alaska, Backpacking, Chilkoot Trail, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments